Wednesday, July 27, 2011


A review of Alexander the Great: Son of the Gods (2001) by Alan Fildes and Joann Fletcher

(Rating 5 of 5)

Alan Fildes and Joann Fletcher wrote this book, Alexander the Great: Son of the Gods, to tell the tale of the world's greatest conqueror. Their book is unique by the amount of space the dedicate to Alexander's time in Egypt, which they consider to be very important to his development and to his ideas on his own divinity. This book's structure and format have a very strong textbook feel to it. The chapters are subdivided into little sections and there are feature boxes that are within but excluded from the main text. The book contains a lot of incredible visuals, such as maps, images of ancient statues, medieval works of art, and present day photos of places where Alexander had been.

This work starts out as a traditional tale of Alexander, discussing the conditions of Macedonia, Greece as a whole, and the Persian Empire that long threatened Greece long before Alexander's arrival. The authors tell the story of how Alexander's dynasty got started and how his parents King Phillip and Queen Olympias came to be married. Alexander grows up between two parents who despise one another while being tutored by one of the greatest minds ever, Aristotle's.

(Alexander's parents)

Alexander becomes the King of Macedon when his father is assassinated. As King, goes to war against the Persian Empire. After defeating Darius III in battle at the battle of Issus and achieving victory at Tyre he heads south. The two authors focus a great deal on what happened to him when he was in the land of the Nile.

(The Alexander Mosaic)

“With the whole of Asia Minor now his, Alexander was free to pursue the Persians east into their own heartlands. However, knowing that would take Darius at least a year to muster a new army after his defeat at Issus, Alexander chose instead to go south to Egypt. Although often regarded by later historians as little more than an eccentric diversion, Alexander's six-month Egyptian sojourn was essential to his future plans—he required a strong coastal base for both strategic and commercial purposes. However, the founding of the city of Alexandria was not the only legacy of the young king's time in Egypt. His stay there was marked a major psychological turning point in his life, for it was in Egypt that he became convinced of his own invincibility and divinity.”(p.52)

Leaving Egypt the Pharaoh, he goes on to challenge King Darius for the rest of his empire. Defeating the King of Persia at the Battle of Gaugamela , Alexander spends the rest of his life mopping up the pieces of his newly won kingdom, stretching his empire all the way to India.

(The battle of Gaugamela)

After his death the authors give the best detailed account of break up his empire amongst his generals that I had ever read. The book also tells the tale of Alexander's tomb that for centuries was located in Alexandria. Now no one knows where it is! If it is ever found that discovery would make the discovery of King Tutankhamen's tomb pale by comparison. According to the authors it was how Alexander conquered and ruled that was his greatest legacy for he single handily ushered in the Hellenistic Age.

(Alexander's Macedonian Empire)

I recommend this book to anyone who would like to know more about Alexander the Great the unstoppable conqueror who saw himself as a god.

{Video is from the History Channel's Battles BC series.}

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


A review of George C. Herring's From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776 (2008)

Part of the Oxford History of the United States Series

(Rating 5 of 5)

Before reading this book I had read a series of history books in order to experience a march through the ages of American history. From Colony to Superpower is a march through the ages all by itself, exploring not only how America developed as a nation but also how, throughout its existence, dealt with its brother and sister nations of the world. The book begins with Thomas Paine and finishes with the Administration of George W. Bush.

In Herring's work the reader sees America as a mixture of idealism and realpolitik. Physically, America was formed as the foreign policy of another nation, Great Britain. However, in a very real sense America was born of an idea. An idea that was illustrated beautifully by Thomas Paine in Common Sense in which he proclaimed that we have the opportunity to start the world anew. That idea that was made official when Thomas Jefferson, with some edits from Ben Franklin, produced the Declaration of Independence in which they proclaimed not only their own independence but laid down what they thought were the rights of all mankind. The only major republic in a world dominated by monarchies, this idea could be heard in Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and a half century later when Woodrow Wilson asked Americans to make the world safe for democracy. Yet, even when American leaders were idealistic at their best they could lay down their dogma and be extremely practical. Whether it was John Quincy Adams writing the Monroe Doctrine or Ronald Reagan deciding to cooperate with Gorbachev, idealism had to be meet with practical reality.

(Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense)

(Writing the Declaration)

One of the common themes of this book is that isolationism is a myth invented by twentieth century politicians. The United States was always active in the world around it. Our most famous documents, such as, the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Constitution itself were statements from the United States of America to the world of our intentions. Herring points out in this book that every American generation had at least one war. Instead of isolationism America had engaged primarily in unilateralism, acting own its own accord doing what it thinks is best. Unilateralism served the United States well in its early days and up to the start of the twentieth century. President George W. Bush would try bring back unilateralism, but that would lead only to debt and disaster.

(Although not known for being a great president, John Quincy Adams, ranks as one of the greatest secretaries of state we ever had)

(The Great White Fleet showed America to be a rising world power in the time of President Theodore Roosevelt)

Herring also discusses a lot of the negative aspects of U.S. foreign policy. The book explains some of the crazy filibustering that went on in the antebellum era, especially in the 1850s. Herring also covers a good deal about ‘blowback’ the price America pays for some of its foreign policy choices. An example of blowback is the United States' negative reputation in a great deal of Latin America due to choice alliances that we made during the Cold War. What can seem like a good and particle decision at the time can come back with deadly consequences.

(America as won of the two superpowers as MacArthur accepts Japan's surrender)

(Henry Kissinger, one of the leading architects of late twentieth century foreign policy)

Herring is extremely fair with almost all the actors in the history of American foreign policy. He treats Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, idealists, and realists the same. When evaluating them if he thinks they deserve praise he gives it and when he is critical of certain actions he writes about what they did wrong and could have done better. The end he concludes that America has to continue to remain engaged in the world it will need to act more respectful.

(Reagan and Gorbachev toward the end of the Cold War)

“Even if in decline, the United States will remain a crucial player in world affairs, and in coping with the challenges of a new and complex era the nation has a rich foreign policy tradition to draw on: the pragmatism of the peacemakers of the American Revolution; the basic realism of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams; the practical idealism of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln; the worldliness and diplomatic skill of John Quincy Adams; the remarkable cultural sensitivity of diplomats such as Townsend Harris and Dwight Morrow; the commitment to public service of Elihu Root and Henry Stimson; the noble aspirations for a better world espoused by Woodrow Wilson; the intuitive understanding of the way diplomacy works—and its limitations—and the 'world point of view' manifested by Franklin Roosevelt in World War II; the coalition-building of Dean Acheson and the Wise Men of the Truman years and the George H.W. Bush administration during the first Gulf War; the strategic vision of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger; the ability to adapt and adjust displayed by Ronald Reagan; the efforts of the countless men and women who sought to share with other peoples the best of their country and to educate their fellow citizens about the world.”(p.963)

I also want to mention that on a technical note I love the footnotes at the bottom of the page as opposed to the end of the book or chapter. This way I do not have to flip back and forth while I am reading the book.

In the end I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in history or foreign policy. It is at times tough to get through seeing that it is over nine hundred pages, however, it is well worth the effort.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


A review of James T. Patterson's Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush V. Gore (2005)

Part of the Oxford History of the United States Series

(Rating 5 of 5)

My final stop on my march through the ages is James T. Patterson's Restless Giant. This volume has a very different feel from both Patterson's previous book Grand Expectations and from the Oxford series in general. This book is more upbeat than the previous; this could be due to the material. Grand Expectations leaves you a little emotionally down in a reflection of the disappointment of the time period. In contrast, Restless Giant is written with the optimism of the 1980s and 1990s, where America, in winning the Cold War, seemed as if it were invincible. The title of the book is a clear spin of one Admiral Yamamoto's statement of America being a sleeping giant that he had awakened by attacking Pearl Harbor. This book is also very different from the rest of the Oxford series because, unlike the earlier volumes, this book is features an era that I actually lived through. I was born in 1981, so my life begins basically in chapter 5 and the rest of the book covers the events of my youth.

The story begins in the 1970s in the aftermath of Watergate, Patterson does his best to uncover this brief little era, in which a public first supports President Gerald Ford but begins to soar towards him in as he pardons his dishonored predecessor. Ford finds himself replaced with the humorless Jimmy Carter, who in turn presides over one of the worst economies since the 1930s. In keeping the tradition of the series, Patterson explores this era from all sides. He tells the story of the ordinary people, the social trends, new gadgets, and entertainment that the people enjoyed. It is a decade I am glad to have just missed.

The 1980s and my life begin with Ronald Reagan having vanquished Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election, ushered in a new conservative era. Although Patterson points out that even though conservative politics were becoming popular it was hardly a triumph equal to the liberals in 1932. The Democrats still held the House and Reagan while eager to pay lip-service to conservative domestic polices, he was not that interested in promoting them. Reagan chose instead to focus mainly on U.S. foreign policy. Reagan's foreign policy would be credited with winning the Cold War for the United States. Patterson also discusses horrors of the era, such as, the coming of the AIDS epidemic, and some the lighter moments such as the beginning of MTV.

“Reagan, moreover, was not so doctrinaire a conservative as liberals made out. While fond of damning big government—and of denunciations of 'welfare queens'--he recognized that liberal interest groups had effective lobbies on the Hill, that major New Deal—Great Society social programs—many of them entitlements—were here to stay, and the rights-consciousness had become a powerful political force. He understood that though people said they distrusted government, they expected important services from it.”(p.163)

The chapter covering the era of George H.W. Bush is known simply as 'Bush 41'. There is a strong argument to be made that of all the presidents to be featured in this book he was the most successful. Unfortunately, he will never be look at in that regard because he is cursed as a one-termer in his lost Bill Clinton in 1992. Although he had 'neo-cons' in his administration, the first President Bush was not as dominated by those view points as his son would be over a decade later.

Patterson begins to cover the nineties, which saw the end of the Industrial Age and the beginning of the Information Age. As the first baby boomer to assume the presidency, Bill Clinton gave Americans the impression that they once again had a very young Kennedy like president. Like Kennedy, he makes a lot of errors and also has his triumphs. And also like Kennedy, Patterson covers more of the former than the later. Nevertheless, I feel that Patterson gives Clinton a fair treatment.

“Extraordinarily well informed about domestic issues, Clinton had impressed many party leaders when he headed the Progressive Policy Institute, a think tank that blossomed after 1989 within the ideologically centrist Democratic Leadership Council. Like a great many boomers, he liberal positions on a range of social issues such as abortion and health care, but though he had the populist touch of a campaigner, he did not position himself of the left. A moderate as governor, he distanced himself as a presidential candidate from liberals like Mondale and Dukakis, who had been badly beaten in 1984 and 1988.” p.248

I was a teenager in the 1990s and my political options were beginning to form. So reading about the Clinton years was like reliving my youth in a way. Of the course the news that dominated the headlines was the Monica Lewinsky affair and the unjustified impeachment of President Clinton by his relentless partisan opponents. Clinton's behavior brought on a lot of his own misery, but his opponents’ behavior was worse because they attacked not only Bill Clinton politically, but the office the President as an institution. Clinton in standing up to these attacks, I believe, ended a deterioration of power that had been chipping at the presidency since Nixon resigned*.

“If Clinton's near-legendary luck had held out—as it might have done if he had been chief executive during pre-Watergate days when reporters had turned a relatively blind eye to the promiscuity of politicians—he would have joined a number of American presidents who had engaged in extramarital relations without being publicly exposed while in office.”(p.388)

The book ends with the controversial election of President George W. Bush over Vice President Al Gore. The first election that I ever voted in was one that was finished by the United States Supreme Court. I was very disappointed the time because I thought the election was outright stolen. I now, in agreeing with Patterson but having this opinion before, feel that the election had instead just fallen off a bus. (I have often thought about what might have been.)

Before ending I have to talk about this one part of a paragraph in chapter 8—the chapter that deals with the culture wars of the 1990s:

“Though many publishers and bookshops struggled to break even, fiction by highly talented authors—Toni Morrison, Alice Munro, Anne Tyler, Richard Ford, John Updike, and others with smaller name recognition—sold well. So did excellently researched works of non-fiction. James McPherson's prize winning Battle Cry for Freedom (1988), a history of the Civil War era enjoyed huge sales.” (p.288)

Now Battle Cry for Freedom, I believe I both read and reviewed that book. If memory serves that is the Civil War volume of the Oxford History of the United States series, which is the same series as this very book! David Kennedy, the current editor, must have yelled out 'GO TEAM' when he read those words.

All in all, this is a great book. It is interesting reading events that took place in your own life as actually history. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to know more about the time decades preceding the attacks of September 11.

{The first two videos are from YouTube thanks to the Miller Center of Public Affairs and the third is from Saturday Night Live}

Monday, July 18, 2011


A review of James T. Patterson's Grand Expectations: The United States 1945-1974 (1996)

Part of the Oxford History of the United States Series

(Rating 4 of 5)

My march through the ages has me now arriving at James T. Patterson's Grand Expectations, covering an era where my grandparents were building their families and my parents were kids. Since this book is about the recent past it is far more tangible than anything I have read so far. It begins in the world where America—with her allies—had just one World War II. Everything seemed so perfect for America was all-powerful, the world's most free nation that had just freed the world, the reforms of the New Deal will protected us from another Great Depression, and science would soon cure everything.

Very soon however the American people were about to learn that they were far from invincible, several members of their nation's minority populations were not free, and the nation had some tough times ahead. This was not entirely a bad thing for although grand expectations* had led to some great disappointments those disappointments led to people great and small to take actions to make things better. At the beginning of this book half the nation is still legally segregated and the opportunities for minorities and women were extremely limited, at the end legal segregation was dead and things in America had changed greatly for those oppressed peoples. The battle for equality was far from over but things were very different.

Like the rest of the series this book covers America from various directions. It looks at the top from the various administrations of Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon. It explores things from the point of view of civil rights leaders such as Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Medgar Evers. The book even takes a look at some of the more extreme activists such as Malcolm X, who was for most of his career a black nationalists and not a believer in equality. The book examines at the sixties counterculture and the famous concert at Woodstock. It also covers the average Americans who were just trying to get along with their lives and who really enjoyed the show 'All in the Family.'

(President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jackie)

(President Johnson sworn in after assassination)

(Controversial civil rights leader Malcolm X)

“No performer aroused more alarm than Elvis Presley. Elvis, twenty years old in 1955, was the son of poor Mississippi farm folk who had moved into public housing in Memphis when he was fourteen. HE pomaded his hair and idolized Brando and Dean, whose Rebel Without a Cause he saw at least of dozen times and whose lines he could recite from memory. Presley learned to sing and play guitar while performing with local groups, often with people from his Assembly of God congregation. In 1954, he recorded 'That's All Right' and a few other songs, mainly in the blues and country traditions, thereby exciting Sam Phillips, a local loved black music and had recorded such musicians as B.B. King earlier in the 1950s. But the color line barred them from fame. 'If I could find a white man with a Negro sound,' Phillips is reputed to have said, 'I could make a billion dollars.'” (p.372)

(Rock icon Elvis Presley)

“The civil rights act was nonetheless a significant piece of legislation, far and away the most important in the history of American race relations. Quickly upheld by the Supreme Court, it was enforced with vigor by the State, for there were many thousands of hospitals, school districts, and colleges and universities affected by provisions of the law. Although many southern leaders resisted, most aspects of enforcement proved effective in time, and the seemingly impregnable barriers of Jim Crow finally begin to fall. Black people at last could begin to enjoy equal access to thousands of places that had excluded them in the past. Few laws have such dramatic and heart-warming effects.”(p.546)

There are some parts of the book I am very critical of. The book lacks a type of poetic feel that was present in previous volumes such as Gordon Wood's Empire of Liberty and David Kennedy's Freedom From Fear. Also often this book strongly leans to the negative. I am not saying one should not be critical when need be, for example there are several sections in David Walker Howe's What Hath Good Wrote that are very critical at times but nevertheless has a strong sense of wonder. This book very much lacks that at times. The moon landing is barely covered. For thousands of years humans had look at the moon and often worshiped it, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin went out and walked on it, and Patterson strongest stance on the matter is: it did not give us as much scientific information than we would have liked. While criticizing President Kennedy's foreign policy—again, nothing wrong with criticizing, especially the Bay of the Pigs disaster—he reduces the entire Peace Corps to just a single sentence. He also feels at times he needs to say something critical every time he says something positive. When discussing Cuban Missile Crisis he feels he needs to balance the positive view of Kennedy's handling of the event view with a more critical one, despite the fact that the critical view's argument is extremely weak. In some ways Patterson's seems to be so caught up in the era's disappointments to appreciative its wonder.

(Moon Landing)

I still highly recommend this book it is very insightful look into to how America was and the American people themselves at the end of World War II to how disappointed they were after the disastrous Vietnam War and the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon. The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union chilled the air for the entire era as the nation that though it could to anything had to learn its limits. America in this era was a nation of high hopes and great disappointments.

*If the reader was given a hundred dollars every time the words 'grand expectations' came up the reader would probably finish with a few thousand dollars.

{Video is of JFK's Cuban Missile Crisis speech and MLK's 'I have a dream speech.'}

Monday, July 11, 2011


A review of David M. Kennedy's Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (2005)

Part of the Oxford History of the United States Series

Rating (5 of 5)

The one thing that remains constant as I continue my march through the ages of history of the United States, is that America is a nation that continues to transform and change. The two extraordinary events of the Great Depression and World War II helped transform the nation its people. The leader though both of these great crises was Franklin D. Roosevelt. Not since George Washington led us through both the American Revolution and the early days of the national government had one leader impacted the nation's destiny by shaping the country's response to two great national events.

(Roosevelt hard at work)

Economic 'depressions' had happened before in our country, in the late 1830s, late 1870s, and mid-1890s. However the event we now know as the 'Great Depression' lasted longer than any other and came as a great shock because the twenties had been such a boom time. Kennedy traces the source of the severity of this depression to the international factors that emerged from World War I. In this analysis, Herbert Hoover had been more of a victim of events than the cause of them. Nevertheless, Hoover no longer had the public’s trust nor confidence and the electorate turned him out of office in 1932. What I learned from this book was how the Depression came in waves. That it was not right after the stock market crashed that things went bad, but a series of events that continued to torpedo the U.S. Economy until it collapsed.

(The President and the First Lady)

When Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor move into the White House, the President brought with them Harry Hopkins and Frances Perkins. While in Washington they begin to set up the New Deal. Kennedy spends a great deal of time discussing the New Deal and its impact. The New Deal benefited and continues to benefit the nation. Its immediate impact with programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps provided the unemployed temporary employment. The New Deal continues to impact us today with Social Security, banking reforms, a minimum wage, and safety regulations for workers. Kennedy explains clearly that the New Deal did not end the depression. What it did do however, was provide security for the American people from the rough waves of the market. The same reason levies are built to protect against floods, the New Deal gave security to so the common people were not completely left exposed to the economic forces beyond their control.

(Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins)

(Secretary of Commerce Harry Hopkins)

“Roosevelt had prepared the ground well. His transparent allusions to less responsible schemes helped convince congressional doubters that the president's measured radicalism was far preferable to the dread Long and Townsend alternatives—or the even more dread option of a bill introduced by Minnesota representative Ernest Lundeen, which called for unemployment compensation at full wages to all jobless workers, paid for out of general tax revenues and administered by local workers' councils. After lengthy hearings through an exceptionally crowed legislative season, the Social Security Act became law on August 14, 1935.” (p.271)

Roosevelt was not without his faults however, and those faults were exposed with the Court-packing scheme. His fault was not an attempt to reform the Court, for the Court for the fifty years prior had been acquiring quite an infamous reputation as the enemy of reform. It would impose its own narrow view of the U.S. Constitution and use it to undermine progressive legislation that the people had been trying for years to achieve through their elected representatives. Roosevelt was able to get the Court to change its tune but the unwise manner in which he did it cost him a great deal of political capital.

Then of course comes World War II, with American isolationism at an all-time high, Roosevelt did what he could to aid the allies with the Land Lease deal, turning America into an 'arsenal for democracy'. However, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, America could no longer turn its back on the war.

World War II had some of the history’s most affective leaders. From the heroic Roosevelt, Churchill, and DeGalle on the allies; to the more villainous Stalin—who fought with the good guys—, Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo; no side in this conflict lacked for effective leadership. There was also a great deal of talented generals and admirals. Although having a great deal of talent is nice problem to have it, in part, made Roosevelt’s job harder as he had to choose who would lead Operation Overlord and liberate Europe. Roosevelt felt that justice demanded that he use George Marshall, however, in the end he felt the right man for the job was Dwight D. Eisenhower.

(The Big Three)

(The Axis Three)

“Eisenhower's studied geniality found an appreciative admired in Franklin Roosevelt, himself an adept scholar of the human psyche and virtuoso practitioner of the recondite craft of leadership. Now, flying from Tunis to Sicily for an inspection tour of American troops, Roosevelt the accomplished master instructed Eisenhower the sedulous apprentice in the arts that he must summon and home in his new assignment. Huddling in a seat alongside the general as their aircraft droned over the Mediterranean, the president dwelt on the teeming difficulties that awaited Eisenhower in London. There he would confront head-on, day in a day out, the full majesty of the British Government and the seductive personality of Winston Churchill. Churchill still believed, Roosevelt warned, that a failed Channel attack could cost the allies the war—and that the risk of failure was large. Despite his assurances at Quebec and his submission at Teheran, Churchill had not laid to rest his gnawing anxieties about Overlord. It would take all of Eisenhower's skill and resolution, Roosevelt advised, to keep Overlord on schedule.” (p.690)

(General Eisenhower giving orders)

On the Pacific front Fleet Admiral Nimitz and General MacArthur had their hands full with Japan. Kennedy describes the War in the Pacific as one brutal blood bath. The amount of blood and gore that went on in this side of the war played as a major factor for Harry S. Truman to use the Atomic Bomb.

“When the battle officially ended on June 22, only some 7,000 of the original 77,000 remained alive. The fighting had also killed over 100,000 Okianawan civilians. The Americans suffered 7,613 killed or missing, 31,807 wounded, and 26,211 non-battle casualties on the island, a nearly 35 percent casualty rate, in addition to the nearly 5,000 who dies and 4,824 who were wounded at sea. Among the dead were Buckner, his chest sundered by a Japanese shell fragment, as well as the celebrated war correspondent Ernie Pyle, felled by a sniper's bullet. The awful carnage on Okinawa, like that on Iwo Jima, weighed heavily on the minds of American policymakers as they now contemplated the war's endgame.” (p.834)

(Admiral Nimitz accepts Japan's surrender on behalf of the United States)

(President Harry Truman)

This book is covers so much in under a thousand pages. One thousand seems like a lot, but for the amount of information the reader receives it is actually quite a low number. Kennedy does not go into a great deal about the Holocaust primarily because this book is about the United States, but he does discuss how the people in the United States had a difficult time in the absorbing what was actually happening to the Jews and other 'undesirables' of Germany. The book also covers the American home front, the status of African-Americans and other racial minorities, and the changing attitudes about the role of women as a result of the war. Kennedy goes over the horrible internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and the tragic case of Fred Korematsu. I really appreciate Kennedy's take on the 'average American' before and after these two events.

On a technical side note I would once again say that I appreciate the Oxford series for leaving the footnotes at the bottom of the pages they are on and not at the end of the book. It makes looking at sources easy and does not distract from the general narrative.

Freedom from Fear is a wonderful book which I highly recommend to anyone. Like the rest of this series I find its depth incredible without being overwhelming.

{The first video is a 1930s government news bulletin the second is images of D-Day combined with classical music and was posted by BromellFilmCorp on YouTube}